If you are going to make and sell AR-platform rifles in our currently AR-saturated market, you are going to have to have an edge. Maybe several edges.
Enter the Axelson Combat 5.56 rifle–complete with a number of good edges.
The Axelson Combat 5.56 is one rifle in the growing line up of ARs made by Axelson Tactical of Minden, Nevada. Over the last couple months, I’ve had the opportunity to use three Axelson rifles at the range and in the field, followed by some concerted range time with a new Combat 5.56 specifically for this review. All that time — and hundreds of rounds fired through the Axelson ARs — proved to me that these are quality rifles, made to exacting specifications. Axelson’s are accurate and dependable, and will be putting rounds downrange years after other ARs are too nicked up to go on.
Axelson Tactical is a relative newcomer to the tactical market, and was launched a just a few years ago by Jeff Axelson who named the company in honor of his brother, Matt, a SEAL who died in 2005.
Matt Axelson was one of the four SEALs air-dropped into the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan in June of 2005 on a mission to locate a top Taliban leader. The mission was called Operation Red Wings, and was the basis for the 2013 movie, Lone Survivor.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson died that June day on a desolate Afghan mountain slope, fighting until the end to save his fellow SEALs, and taking out a large number of Taliban fighters in the process. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions — the Navy’s second highest award for valor.
To honor Matt’s memory—as a sibling, a SEAL and a warrior who never quit—brother Jeff founded Axelson Tactical, offering tactical gear, clothing and firearms.
“Many in our family history have served,” said Jeff Axelson. “My Grandpa and his brother were career Navy and were on the USS Pennsylvania in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Grandma was a Marine for the duration of World War II. Dad and Uncle Dean were in the Army Infantry and fought in the Vietnam War, so duty and never quitting run deep with us.”
My first experience with an Axelson AR was using a Combat 300BLK on a predator hunt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While the predators did not cooperate, the rifle was a pleasure to shoot. I put over 100 rounds of 300 Blackout through the rifle between sighting in, changing out optics a couple times, and just practicing. I didn’t have a single feeding or ejection problem, plus I was soon pegging three and four rounds into a circle the size of a nickel at 100 yards.
A month later, I got to use a friend’s Combat .308, running two boxes of ammunition through it at the shooting range. While obviously heavier than its 300 BLK cousin, the Combat .308 was just as reliable and accurate, plus had that .308 punch. Recoil was stouter, of course, too, but very manageable.
Then, I spent some time at the range with a new, right-out-of-the-box Combat 5.56 rifle—also called the AXE-15. I topped it with a Swarovski Z6i, a 1-6x24mm scope. During the course of my testing, I used at least 20 rounds each of four different .223 Rem cartridges, including Hornardy Superformance Varmint with a 53-grain VMAX bullet; Liberty Silverado with a 55-grain lead free bullet; Remington Premier Match, 77 grain Sierra Match King bullet and the Team Never Quit training round, with a 45-grain frangible bullet.
Accuracy: From what I experienced, the Combat 5.56 will drill very near the bullseye all day long. My best 100 yard group was right at .75 inches with the Hornady Superformance Varmint. Team Never Quit frangible was second at just under an inch. I was firing from a padded rest, so I would expect even tighter groups with a Lead Sled or a similar, extremely solid platform.
Functionality: The Combat 5.56 cycled every round without a problem, kicking out the brass a good six feet to my right. Looking over the brass, I found no damage or dents on the bodies or necks, and no scratches or claw marks on the rims that would suggest some problem with extraction or with an over-zealous extractor.
The bolt catch engaged the bolt easily, and held it in place firmly. The spring on the magazine release was taunt but not too tight; with a solid push on the release, the magazine popped right out. The Strike Industries extended charging handle applied good rearward leverage. The Fire-Safe lever moved smoothly between stations.
I had to real reason to use the forward assist, but it functioned well. By the way, I am not sure why the forward assist is becoming less popular on ARs. Certainly, leaving off the assist means less expense to a manufacturer, but I’d argue it’s quite possible to short stroke a round and have it not chamber correctly. So, I was glad to see that Axelson Tactical still includes the forward assist on its rifles.
Trigger: My Combat 5.56 came with an ALG trigger, which had a crisp let off and almost zero creep. The Axelson rifles can also be had with a Geissele trigger at an additional cost. But I’d have no problem using the ALG trigger in any scenario—tactical, hunting, competition. It is far, far better than one of its gritty Mil Spec cousins, though it doesn’t have as light a pull as its pricier Geissele counterpart.
Ergonomics: The stock extended easily and slid back into position without a hitch. The nice swell along the rear and side of the B5 Systems Bravo Stock provided a good cheek weld.
I really liked the Slim Profile Lightweight M-Lock Rail and handguard. It fit my hand very well, providing a rock solid grip without digging into the skin, and kept my hand cool even after dozens of rounds.
All in all, the Combat 5.56 felt great in hand and came up to the shoulder easily. I did some practice going quickly from low ready to the shoulder and firing several rounds downrange. The light rifle (under seven pounds) went right into the pocket of my shoulder naturally and lined up on target fast.
The Combat 5.56 is essentially a custom AR. All Axleson rifles are made one at a time, from top components, and you can tell that they are solid, rattle-free rifles before you finish the first magazine. All of which comes at a price — these are not bargain-basement rifles.
Jeff Axelson told me that, in keeping with the memory of brother Matt, all his rifles are made to perform in the field, and to keep working in spite of the worst field conditions.
Of course, you can have problems with any rifle, at any and all price points. But I would expect the Combat 5.56 to be a trouble-free rifle for thousands and thousands of rounds, and very capable of taking some rough handling. You really can’t ask for more in an AR.
Specs: Axelson Combat 5.56
- Upper: Axelson Tactical Forged 7075-T6 Aluminum Hard-Coat Anodized
- Lower: Axelson Tactical Forged 7075-T6 Aluminum Hard-Coat Anodized
- Rail System: 14-inch Slim Profile Lightweight M-Lock Rail
- Butt Stock: B5 Systems Bravo Stock
- Trigger: ALG Combat Trigger
- Lower Parts Kit: CMMG
- Gas Tube: Carbine Length BCM
- Gas Block: Low Profile .650 BCM
- Buffer System: BCM
- Charging Handle: Strike Industries with Extended Latch
- Bolt Carrier Group: Axelson Tactical Matte Finish Nickel Boron
- Grip: BCM Gunfighter Mod 1
- Muzzle Brake: Axelson Tactical Talon Muzzle Brake
- Barrel: As tested, Faxon Chrome Lined 16-inch. Also available in an 18-inch version. 1/8 Twist Rate on both barrel lengths.
- Weight: 6 pounds, four ounces, empty